Monday, March 1, 2010

One More Rant

In the final analysis, Star Wars is, in fact a entertainment for children…it is a “kids movie.” The original film, created in 1977 was designed to be a rip-roaring adventure film of the type George Lucas enjoyed in his youth.

This is a film that is created before the Reagan-Bush economics of the 80s and the New Cold War, before the extreme partisan politics and Neo-Con movement of the 90s, before 9/11 and the fear-mongering, civil liberty crushing “war on terror” of the 21st century.

Happy little adventures in space…that’s what Lucas was shooting for.

Fans that read more into it or that (like myself) try to justify parts of the film to maintain some sort of internal consistency are missing the point. How come the Emperor can shoot lightning and Vader can’t? Is it because Vader is half machine and the lightning will “short out” his systems? Or is it because by the 3rd movie you need the Emperor to have something new that no one’s seen and that makes him even more sorcerous and badass.

Why is Count Dooku such a spry old man at age 78 when Alec Guinness’s Obi-Wan looks downright clunky at 63? Maybe because:

a) having established Obi-Wan and Anakin as two youthful and acrobatically potent Jedi, a doddering Christopher Lee would have been mince-meat.

b) having already used one acrobatic alien (Maul) in the first film, Lucas needed a suitable (i.e. significant threat) replacement

c) Lee provides an excellent “heavy” despite his lack of youthful spryness, and

d) We have better special effects (and a bigger budget) than in 1977.

Trying to justify the discrepancy by saying “oh, Dooku was channeling the Dark Side” or that Guinness’s Obi-Wan “was out of shape from twenty years of meditation” or “crippled by prior injuries” is just failing to go with the joyful madness.

Sure, Jar-Jar Binks SUCKS to a lot of us…that’s ‘cause we were in our much more mature 20s when he was introduced on screen. I will admit it…I LOVED the ewoks when I was age 10, and Return of the Jedi was probably by far and away my favorite movie of the original three, when I was a kid.

Yes, I loved the ewoks…I even had a Burger King glass and at least a couple action figures (though I preferred Logray and Chief Chirpa to that runty Wicket). I even dug on their little celebratory song that got cut from the re-digitized version.

Sure, there was contrivance, and camp, and cheesiness…much moreso than the first two films…but to a kid, it was nothing but sheer awesome. Puppet monsters and Jabba the Hutt? Speeder bike races? A bazillion tie-fighters swarming like angry hornets? A dark robed figure of pure evil that shoots lightning? A one-on-one showdown between Luke and Vader? Little teddy bears taking out the over-confident, faceless minions? Chewbacca yowling like Tarzan and stealing scout walkers? You bet.

All of it. I loved all of it. As a child RotJ was a fantastic capstone to the first trilogy.

Now SINCE growing up, I too have moaned and groaned about all the things everyone seems to moan and groan about. The ewoks. The camp. The “re-mastering” of the original films. The prequels not living up to expectations. But ya’ know what? I think I have been missing the point as much as anyone.

These are movies for kids. Written, directed, produced, and acted by adults…but designed (by Lucas) to target kids including “the inner child” of adults (especially Lucas himself).

From that perspective, I believe it is possible to enjoy the films without resentment and without complaint. True, one might have to actually watch the films WITH CHILDREN to get a true perspective of how well they succeed (sometimes it’s difficult in one’s 30s and 40s to remember what the hell excited you as a kid), but that’s the only fair way to judge the movies. The backlash Lucas has suffered at the hands of ADULT fans returning to a KID genre and being disappointed may be entirely undeserved. In other words, we have all (including myself!) given the man a raw deal by setting expectations he never intended to make.

- He wasn’t striving for great art

- He wasn’t trying to create a mythology spanning centuries

- He wasn’t attempting to reconcile all the internal inconsistencies and various Star Wars sources of fiction.

The guy was just trying to create fun, adventuresome, family-wholesome films.

So judging them based on THAT, I find only a couple-three problems with the entire six film series:

1) Jar-Jar binks, as a character, is COMPLETELY FORGIVABLE AND EXCUSABLE. I imagine that many kids would find his hijinx funny and entertaining; certainly all of it is secondary to the main plot line and thus simple comic relief in the Shakespearean style. However, his accent (and that of the other gungans) is pretty darn thick to try to understand. Why make his language semi-incoherent when you you could (instead) use subtitles and have the human characters fill in the important expository dialogue, as was done with Greedo and Jabba the Hutt. As far as little kids not reading sub-titles, neither Jabba nor Greedo actually SAY ANYTHING that needs translation thanks to the (English-speaking) opposite actor’s responding dialogue. Frankly, I can only catch the context of the Gungans words BECAUSE of the dialogue from Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan most of the time.

2) The addition of Greedo shooting Han (the “Han Shot First” scandal). I don’t recall Lucas’s justification for this, but I think the original sequence was (from a screenplay stand-point) an important illustration of the Han Solo character’s personality. It provides more dramatic pay-off later in the film when he comes back, choosing friendship over selfish self-interest. The character loses something with this particular ret-con.

3) And that’s about it. From a “film critic” perspective, the addition of the Jabba scene in the first film doesn’t provide much in the way of additional exposition or plot development, and for me slows the pacing and downplays the “pay-off” when Jabba is revealed in all his bloated splendor in the 3rd film, but it certainly doesn’t derail a serial adventure story like Star Wars.

SO after saying all that, I say the films should be celebrated for what they are: wonderful fantasy children’s movies and real pieces of Americana and classic Hollywood film-making, as well as historic examples of ground-breaking special effects.

[does that mean I think people should NOT dress up like stormtroopers at conventions or write down “Jedi” for religion in their 2010 census? Hell, no. People should take their fun as seriously as they want, dammit. This is a call for appreciating what the films ARE and a request for folks to stop complaining about what they are not]

Now What O What dear blog-readers does any of this have to do with RPGs (since this IS an RPG blog)? Plenty…if one is interested in writing a Star Wars RPG.

For one thing, if Star Wars (and its sequels/prequels) is a kid movie, shouldn’t the game be kid friendly? Or at least have the potential to be so? To me, this means designing a game that is ACCESSIBLE to kids, including the 10-12 year old range…something easy to learn and easy to play. Which for the most part would cut out most of D20s overly-complex, multi-hundred page books (including the multi-hundred page sourcebooks as well).

For another thing, it suggests that much of WEG’s original RPG “got it right,” at least regarding the ATTITUDE and presentation. I’m not so sure about the game system itself (which has a few problems for me), but the writing very much promotes a wa-hoo, kid adventure type game.

[you know, thinking about it, only the prequel Episodes II and III feel/seem too dark for the Star Wars genre. As an adult, I enjoy them, though I wouldn’t call ‘em “high art;” as a kid, I’m not sure what I’d make of ‘em. Might have to consult with some of my friends’ younger teenagers]

In addition to being accessible and having the proper attitude, a Star Wars RPG should have a degree of OPEN-ENDEDNESS to it, something akin to Classic Traveller (sans Imperium, in other words). Look at the metric tons of fan fiction created for the “Star Wars Universe” from books and novels, to fan movies, to comics and magazines and games and cartoons. Regardless of Lucas’s original intentions, he has indeed spawned a living, breathing mythology that is ever-growing and expanding. A Star Wars RPG should NOT attempt to encompass all of the material (yow! That would be ker-razy!) but should leave room for folks to make their own stuff and create their own sourcebooks, etc.

In my opinion, a Star Wars RPG would do well to not even include stats for specific film NPCs, assuming the point of the game is “to allow play within the Star Wars universe.” If the point of play is to recreate the films, participate in the Battle of Hoth or go toe-to-toe with Vader in the Death Star (for example), then yeah, you need stats for all the principal characters. However, I’m inclined to leave that for a single, separate sourcebook.

What am I saying? That I’m interested at taking my own stab at a Star Wars RPG? Um, yeah, I guess that’s the point. I would think A LOT of people are interested now that WotC is giving up the license come May 2010. Last summer, I was working on my own Jedi-specific game, bitterly resentful that Hasbro/WotC had their iron grip on the RPG IP. Now, I’m filled with…dare I say it?... "A New Hope."

But if ANYONE’s going to do a Star Wars RPG, it ought to be done right, and by “right” I mean, in the spirit of Lucas’s original vision, NOT in our adult perception of what we think that vision should have been or even could have been. But that’s just my opinion, folks.

I wonder how much the license costs…?


  1. "Jar Jar Binks makes the Ewoks look like f***ing Shaft!"

    Truer words, etc.

    Jedi is still my favourite, even as an adult. I never had a problem with the "silly" aspects, because, yes, it's a kids' film, and that's fine.

    And I always "explained" Obi Wan's slowness as his personal style; there's no reason why every single lightsabre duellist has to be Jackie Chan.

    My bet is the licence will go to Green Ronin. Bioware are doing the new computer rpg, and GR already have a partnership with them, so I think we might see an Old Republic tabletop rpg.

  2. Awesome post. And I pretty much agree with you on all points—especially the 'Wahoo!' factor of the setting. I think Star Wars as a game NEEDS that 'inner kid' in order to really feel like the movies (or at least like the original trilogy). And from that aspect (problems with the system aside), I think WEG did a great job with the emphasis in their Star Wars RPG.

    My favorite Star Wars has fluctuated through the years, mainly between Episodes IV and V (though I'm a big lover of Jedi, too)—but it has since come back around solidly to 'A New Hope'. And why? Because I saw that movie as a kid—seven years old, as I recall. I don't remember much from being seven, but even 32 years later, I remember that film and how it made me feel. It struck a chord that has stayed with me through my whole life...and why? Not because of a 'serious storyline' or political commentary or anything like that—but because it was a FUN TIME unlike anything I'd ever experienced before—or since. Hence my obsession and my blog...

    As far as the license goes, hey, I'm willing to chip in $20... anyone else?

  3. The "it's a kids movie" might fly... if Pixar wasn't making kids movies like "The Incredibles." Making it for kids is no excuse for making it poorly, and the prequels have some serious issues and too much laziness in them for me to cut them much slack.

  4. If Lucas' intention was to make movies like the serials of his youth, calling "Star Wars" a kids' movie doesn't fit: those serials weren't kids' movies - they were intended for young and old alike.

    And yeah, maybe Lucas' goal was to make "fun, adventuresome, family-wholesome films." (Although I'll argue against this statement 'til I'm blue in the face as it relates to the prequels, esp. II and III. There's no way those politically agendized - my own word there - films are entirely intended to be "fun" and "adventuresome." There was a lot more going on there than a mindless romp as in the serials of old. And they were a little too light on the fun and adventure, IMO.) But that doesn't mean he succeeded.

    Sure, the sequels were fun, to an extent. But they lacked the wonder and awe - the sheer spectacle - of the first film. And they - while advancing Lucas' story - began a demystification of the Star Wars universe until it became just another mundane sci-fantasy setting. What started as a universe of imagination, where almost anything can happen, became narrow and claustrophobic very quickly. The prequels were the final nail in the coffin. (The books and comics between the first and second film also managed to be fun but still preserved the sense of wonder, IMO.)

    Sorry, but I was 100% behind your last post on this topic - and still am.

  5. I think this is the most healthy approach to the Star Wars movies I have seen on the internet in a long time.

    I am very excited about the possibility of a new Star Wars RPG. I own the Saga book and I honestly have never read it. I would like to have the sourcebooks, more for their information than anything else.

    We loved the WEG game as kids. But it did bog down as the characters improved. We had the Elrood Sector book and stretched the fight for freedom there out for over 4 real life years, playing 2 to 3 times a week. All I ever used were ships, equipment and aliens from other books. We didn't use movie NPCs at all. That is the way I enjoy Star Wars gaming.

  6. I have to disagree on a couple of points:

    1. I thought that the "story" of the prequels was horribly jumbled and incoherent. In the original 3, the plot did mimic an adventure serial with obvious good and bad guys, and a plot that a 7 year old could understand. I'm *still* not sure I understand the political aspects of the prequels.

    2. The acting in Episode I by Anakin is just plain horrible.

    3. The character of Anakin across episodes II and III is that of a complete whiner, and I just can't stand watching it. THIS is the Darth Vader of IV - VI? Come on!

    As to your other points (just revel in the fun of a children's movie and don't pick them apart), I agree.

  7. @ Kelvin: Your guess at Green Ronin might be about right. I wonder what they'd do with it (they've been kind of hit-and-miss in my book). I just found out they're based in Lynnwood (!) just north of me...maybe I should try to wrangle a job out of ' least then, I'd get a say on what's in the new RPG.

    @ Rologut: I'll take that $20 and chip in $20 of my own. Maybe that's what I'll use the profits from the B/X Companion for...assuming I can get it out before the license is up for grabs in May!

    @ Trollsmyth: Lucas was a lot older in the late 90s than he was when he did the original films...he may have lost a little touch with the pulse of the younger generation. Still, while *I* liked the Incredibles more (again, as an adult!) that doesn't mean the prequels didn't have some appeal to the youngsters.

    @ ChrisB: Glad you're behind SOME of my stuff anyway!
    ; )

    @ McKee: I have thoroughly checked out the sourcebooks and found them extremely LESS useful than anything WEG put out back in the day. The Starship book is good for completeness (since it has some classic ships not found in the Saga Core), but everything else is of little use. I am totally serious! ANYONE OLD ENOUGH/SMART ENOUGH TO DECIPHER THE CORE RULES can do AT LEAST an equal job with character modeling and campaign sketching...or even feat/power/talent creation (and the game is plenty complete with the Core book). I'd skip 'em (hell, I AM skipping 'em!).

    @ Alan: Like father like son...I found Luke to be a bit of a whiner myself. But I share your frustration...I certainly figured Anakin would be a more mature (or at least, self-assured) Jedi than the one depicted.

  8. Thanks for the heads up, I'll skip them then

  9. My response echoes an earlier poster: I don't believe that these are kid's movies or intended to be, escapism, yes.

    To prove my point, I suggest reading George Lucas'novelization of Star Wars, which reads so much better than anything he put in the new trilogy.